Is there an equivalent for "false alarm" in a positive context?

For example imagine everybody is waiting for a miracle to happen, after a while someone says "hey! the miracle happened" and then everybody finds out it wasn't true.


From Oxford dictionary:

Alarm: an anxious awareness of danger.

So false alarm is linked to announcement of a danger, that turned out to be false. I'm looking for an equivalent, if there is any, for mistakenly announcing something hopeful and positive.

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    How about "false positive"? – Robusto Oct 2 '12 at 17:38
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    The equivalent is "false alarm". As a metaphor it refers to an announcement which is afterwards discovered to be false, whether that announcement was positive or negative. – MetaEd Oct 2 '12 at 17:40
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    @aligf: So can a lot of things. – Robusto Oct 2 '12 at 17:40
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    False hope / wishful thinking? – user13107 Oct 2 '12 at 17:56
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    I agree with MetaEd. False alarm can be used for at least one thing positive. For example, an expecting mother rushes to the hospital because of contractions, but they fail to continue to the expected end. When she comes back without having given birth, she could say it was a false alarm. – Spare Oom Oct 2 '12 at 17:59

The equivalent is false alarm:

“The doctors came flying in the room, a whole team of doctors, and said, ‘You’re not going to believe this. We have a liver for you. You’re getting a liver transplant in just a few hours,’” she said. Unfortunately, it was a false alarm. The doctors said it was difficult to find the perfect liver for Shiroda, who is blood type A-positive. —“Family gives special thanks to organ donation”, WAFB.

[T]he Princeton Dental Resource Center said research showed chocolate could fight cavity-causing plaque … [u]nfortunately, it was a false alarm, one that demonstrates the pitfalls of getting advice on dental health from a candy manufacturer. —“Find Who’s Behind Dubious Declarations”, SunSentinel.

@RealMichelleT tweeting about Mud Wrestling and got all excited. Unfortunately, it was a false alarm. —James D (@TuckingFypos) on Twitter

As an idiomatic expression, false alarm refers to a signal which is afterwards discovered to be false: originally a literal false alarm (such as a fire alarm which sounds in the absence of fire, or a false report of fire to the city), but now also a metaphor in which the signal is not a literal alarm and not necessarily even an alarming (scary) thing.

The examples above were found by googling [ "unfortunately it was a false alarm" ]. A Wordnik search for false-alarm returns additional metaphorical examples of “alarms”, some with no negative association, such as:

Gould is referring, of course, to the whipped-up brouhaha surrounding his own three false-alarm “revolutions” in Darwinism: exaptation, punctuated equilibrium, and, most recently, species selectionism.

In the example above, the false alarm is positive: revolutions in the scientific understanding of how species evolve.

For an idiomatic expression such as false alarm, it can be misleading to look up the individual words instead of the expression. Consider instead the attestations given in the following dictionaries:

A signal or warning that is groundless —“false alarm”, sense 2 in American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition [sense 2]

[S]omething that excites unfounded alarm or expectation —“false alarm”, sense 2 at Dictionary.com

  • Sometime “false alarm” is in quotes because, as you said, many of these alarms are not really true at all, but people accept false alarms only when the facts don't match what they believe. – user19148 Oct 2 '12 at 19:10
  • "false alarm" is not really the best choice for the the OP's use, though certainly technically correct. – Kristina Lopez Oct 2 '12 at 19:16
  • Best I can tell, @Carlo_R., you are saying false alarm refers only to situations where a person ignores facts in favor of their beliefs. I do not think that is so. – MetaEd Oct 2 '12 at 19:16
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    @Carlo_R. Not sure what you mean. By definition, a "false alarm" is "not really true at all". If it turned out to be true, it wouldn't be a false alarm, but an actual, true, alarm. – Jay Oct 2 '12 at 20:46
  • I absolutely agree with everything you say here ... but it may still not be suitable for the OPs purposes, if what he needs is a term that clearly indicates that the news seemed good until it turned out to be in error. 'Not saying I have a better alternative. :-) – Jay Oct 2 '12 at 20:53

"Dashed hopes" or "having one's bubble burst" fits the scenario.


"False dawn" or "anticlimax" would work in certain scenarios.

  • +1 false dawn, great alternative. Please also cite a reputable source. – MetaEd Oct 2 '12 at 19:05
  • +1 for anticlimax as well :) – coleopterist Oct 2 '12 at 19:41

Consider disillusionment, “A feeling of disappointment, akin to depression, arising from the realization that something is not what it was expected or believed to be...”.

Actually, disillusioned is how people feel after a “positive false alarm”, and disillusionment may refer to such disappointment or to the unveiling of the truth. For the false alarm event itself, consider mirage: “An optical phenomenon [...] giving the appearance of there being refuge in the distance” or “(figuratively) An illusion.”

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    Disillusionment doesn't have the feel of a sudden let down, but that could just be me. – Kristina Lopez Oct 2 '12 at 19:19
  • Depends on just what the original poster is looking for, but I don't think "disillusionment" fits. That it the feeling that one has after good news turns out to be false, not the news itself. The corresponding term for bad news that turns out to be false would be "relief", not "false alarm". – Jay Oct 2 '12 at 20:49


"Cathy had been in the hospital, and the doctors did not think she had long to live, so we agreed to a radical treatment. I suppose we let ourselves become too hopeful, because it turned out to be a disappointment. The funeral is on Wednesday."

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    Your story is not an example of a false alarm. – Mr Lister Oct 2 '12 at 18:52

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